Do adult children have to honor their “bad” parents?

Child abuse and neglect are widespread problems in our nation. Many adults today grew up in households where one or both parents did not parent as they ought. The Bible commands children to honor their parents. In situations of abuse or neglect this becomes a very difficult command to obey.

The fifth of the ten commandments says, “Honor thy father and mother.” This command is repeated for modern day Christians in Ephesians 6. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for teaching a tradition that justified not honoring parents. The Bible clearly expects children to honor their parents.

To honor someone is to highly value them and to treat them in a way that shows they are valued. This is not the same as obedience. Obedience does what it is told. Honor treats the parent with respect appropriate to their position. Honor will not mock, will not call names, will not yell and will not hate. Proverbs 23:22 says, “Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old.”

Young children or those still be supported by their parents are not the only ones required to honor their parents. Honor is owed the parent even when the child supports them. A child never reaches an age when he does not owe honor to his parents. In New Testament times some Jews would dedicate all their possessions to God. The tradition of the Pharisees allowed the person to continue to use those things for himself. If a parent had a need the child could refuse to meet that need because his possessions had been dedicated to the Lord. This pious sounding selfishness overthrew the fifth commandment. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for this teaching, “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.” (Matthew 15:6)

Jesus taught that adult children were under obligation to honor their parents. Even children with their own households and possessions are obligated to honor their parents. This implies, as well, that ensuring older parents are properly cared for is an essential part of honoring them. Giving to parents that have need is the obligation of any child. Refusing to care for parents is a refusal to honor them.

Is it appropriate to treat abusive, foolish or bad parents with respect, value and compassion? The Bible gives no exceptions to the command to honor father and mother. A similar instruction is given to Christians, commanding them to honor all governmental authorities. Most of the New Testament was written durign the reign of Nero who has gone down in history as one of Rome’s most infamous Caesars. Yet, the New Testament clearly teaches that Christian’s are to honor their rulers.

Despite the many corrupt rulers in the Roman Empire, no exceptions were given to this command. Honor is given to civil authorities because they are given their rule by God for the good of all men. In similar fashion, parents are entrusted by God with the care of their children. Honor is due them for their position and their responsibility. Parents will not always act respectably, but they must always be valued because they are your parents.

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